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Duke Nukem Forever Interview with Gearbox Software
Post by Dan @ 04:34pm 18/10/10 | Comments
At an Australian first-look preview event at Brisbane's Mana Bar, AusGamers caught up with Gearbox Software's Randy Pitchford and Steve Gibson to find out more about the incredibly long-awaited Duke Nukem Forever

AusGamers:To start with, you guys have been on what looks to be a pretty brutal worldwide press tour here...

Randy Pitchford: Not brutal, exhilarating; exciting!

AG: I have to say it's been pretty interesting seeing the different promotional tactic you're taking here, getting the game into the hands of the gaming public...

Randy: Yeah, for some reason it's frustrated some people; they're used to everybody doing it the same cookie-cutter way and we kind of threw a wrench into the whole usual system.

AG: So how are you holding up with it all?

Randy: I love it man, talking to gamers and seeing people's reaction to the game, it's what it's all about. That's why we exist -- to entertain people -- and to interact directly with the folks that we're entertaining is great. What do you think? [to Steve] How have you been holding up?

Steve Gibson: This has been friggin' awesome, I want to do this for more games! [laughs]

Randy: The new style right? This is how it's going to be from now on [laughs].

AG: Alright, so there's already a lot of info out there because of all the dozens of interviews you guys have been doing...

Randy: Oh good, you're going to ask some new questions?

AG: Yeah, I hopefully have a couple of meatier questions to follow, but just to kick things off and quickly explain to our readers what's going on in: what do you think Duke Nukem Forever's strongest points are and what convinced Gearbox to "bet on Duke"?

Steve: When you think about Duke, when I think about duke, it's the personality. The people I talk to are saying "I remember the one liners", "I remember the stripclubs, the boobies"; "I love guns and explosions" and stuff like that. If you can put boobies and explosions and guns in the game, we're all hooked up.

Randy: So the goal for Duke Nukem Forever is to "lower" the bar. To get that bar as low as possible - that's the strategy. [laughs] As for what gave us the confidence to bet on Duke: In that whole "bar-lowering" spectrum, there's no character, no brand, no game that can do that more than Duke can. He's kind of extreme there. To me he's one of a kind. Also, "always bet on Duke" so we kind of just have to.

AG: Words to live by for sure. Now we've heard a lot about how the reins have been handed over from 3D Realms to Gearbox, but can you sort of paint us a picture of the team that's working on the game now, and how do Allen Blum, Triptych and those guys fit into the process and also, does George [Broussard] or any of the other 3D Realms guys who aren't with Gearbox, do they still have any creative input at all?

Randy: Well the team is over 70 people now and there's multiple components. One component is the Gearbox team, that's production and technical; quality assurance, methodology and support; infrastructure and all that. There's also a team up in Seattle called Piranha that's involved and some of the Piranha guys are from the old Threewave team who created Quake CTF, those guys have been making multiplayer since there was multiplayer and so it's really awesome that they were available and excited to get involved. So they've been building the multiplayer game and doing a great job with that.

In addition there's a lot of awesome engineers at Piranha, so they've been helping a lot with the console versions of the game too; doing incredible work. I have a feeling that when this game comes out, those guys are going to do well, they're going to get a lot of attention and a lot of credit and some good work is probably going to come their way.

Then there's the Triptych guys. Triptych is the name that the eight guys that did not give up after 3D Realms shut down picked for themselves. Those guys are amazing, there's only eight of them but within them lives all of the institutional knowledge of all of the work that was done at 3D Realms and the vision of the game and Allen is one of them. So they're on our tenth floor and integrated with the project and the team and part of the whole system in a big way.

And there's a lot of other guys that kind of scattered to the winds after 3D Realms shut its doors, and there's still a lot of their work in the game. Some of those guys actually ended up at Gearbox right away, and there's others that came over to Gearbox over the years from there too. So a lot of the heart and soul is still here in the project.

Going back, if you remember the trailer in 2001. If you go back and look at that trailer and pause on the credits at the end - with the exception of one name, every single designer and artist listed in the credits has at some point either left 3D Realms and joined Gearbox or is now part of the project.

AG: Wow, for real?

Randy: Yeah, so that's the team. Now technically George [Broussard] and Scott [Miller], they passed the torch and they're not involved but George is a dear friend -- Steve and I play poker with George every week -- so much of the game is him and so much of Duke is him and I know he has a stake in it, so we bounce things around and to whatever extent he still wants to get his fingers in there, I'm excited for that and he does from time to time.

AG: Right on, that's really nice to hear.

Randy: He cares about quality and he knows what good is.

AG: Now we know some concessions have been made to make Duke a better fit for console gaming...

Randy: We do? Who told you that?

AG: Well from what we've seen played and heard, the two-weapon limitation and the slower movement speed as examples.

Randy: That was a design decision that 3D Realms made well before we picked it up, it actually predates the Xbox 360. But that's an interesting assumption you've made.

AG: Really? I suppose it is a presumptuous perspective, but on that note, what are your thoughts on the general concept of platform parity? Do you think that a uniform experience across all platforms is something that is really necessary?

Randy: I'll tell you my philosophy, though there's a few different philosophies. From a production point of view, games are very expensive to make and as a game-maker we desire to entertain the world. We want to reach as many customers as possible and there's different customers on the different platforms. So if we can find a way to be optimal across multiple platforms we're able to create better entertainment overall. Because the amount of investment we make in creating that entertainment is rationalised against how many customers we can reach.

The goal is to make at least as much as you spend - you obviously don't want to make less than you spend or you go away. So you have to make a projection based on how many customers you can reach then you know how much you can risk. If you can reach more customers by being multi-platform you can be optimal by being multi-platform then the game on each platform is better because you can pass the cost across all those customers -- that's from a business and production point of view.

From a gamer's point of view: I love great entertainment. I -- and I tend to think most gamers -- have a favourite platform and sometimes we'll move onto others when there's exclusives, but we tend to have a favourite and when there's a multi-platform game we choose to play it on our favourite platform. And I think the games that are multi-platform that do a good job of implementing themselves on each platform correctly, serve the gamers that love each platform the best.

In addition, I think that games that try to make slight differences between the platforms in content or experience, they're really trying to motivate us to buy more than one copy and I think that's kind of a money grab and I don't agree with that. I think that I should be able to buy a multi-platform game on my preferred platform and know that I'm getting the full entertainment experience. So those are my philosophies.

AG: Ok, so how does something like the console life-cycle work into that? With Xbox and PlayStation both hoping for another five years this generation, what happens soon once PC really begins to eclipse the consoles again in terms of performance? What do you think will happen to the parity concept?

Randy: Well we'll cross that bridge when it comes. You know, you make a decision each time you start a new game based on when you think you're going to ship it and what you imagine the landscape will be like at that point. In terms of Duke Nukem Forever, I'm not sure that kind of analysis applies, but in terms of games that we're maybe thinking of starting at this point, we'd have to think about when the generation will shift.

The business is giving us confidence that this generation on the consoles is a long one, it's not over yet and won't be for the forseeable future. I'm not sure if we've got two years or three years or five as you said, but it's very unlikely that we have less than two years so that allows us to think of new projects even today that we can still launch on these platforms. On PC, well you know each platform is unique, there's a lot of unique differences even between the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Sometimes there's goals that we can best accomplish on one platform because of the unique idiosyncracies of that platform - and if there's a goal that we want to accomplish and we believe that the customers support that goal, then you kind of focus on that. And there certainly are some game-makers that focus more on one platform or another.

Right now, I think my ultimate goal is being an entertainer and as an entertainment my metrics are: How many people can I reach and to what extent can I gratify them? With those metrics in mind, I tend to prefer promises that aren't unique to a single platform. I tend to like ones that can actually be more accessible and cross-platform.

AG: One huge draw for me for Duke 3D, and probably the reason I remember it so fondly was creating my own maps on the Build engine -- we'd share them on BBS' and play them for hours in multiplayer. Now you started out making maps for Duke 3D expansion so you've gotta be able to relate to how big a part of that game it was. Is any of that kind of functionality going to be in Duke Forever? I know you don't want to make too many promises, but is that something that you wanted to offer?

Randy: Well Gearbox has a pretty decent history with respect to releasing mod tools and SDKs and other ways customers can interact with the game as creators. And I like that history and it's definitely part of our philosophy to enable that whenever we can. I mean, we were even able to convince Microsoft and Bungie to let us release tools for Halo, which was unprecedented. So we certainly have that as part of our DNA.

But the honest, sincere answer is that we haven't made decisions yet about Duke. Today's games are very complicated and it's very challenging to release tools undocumented and expect people to be able to figure out how to use them and there's a huge effort involved in finding a starting point for documentation or samples. Build was a really unique engine in the sense that production maps -- the actual shipping content -- could actually be loaded into the editor and it existed in its pre-interpreted state. So that was a very unique situation that doesn't exist in today's games. Today's content that we build and our tools are compiled into some other more optimised and streamlined form so that they run quickly on the different platforms. And this creates a kind of different challenge.

I hope that we do something there, but I can't promise anything at this point because we haven't made the decisions about it. But it's certainly in our DNA to want to do those kinds of things and it's certainly in Duke's legacy to suggest that there's going to be a customer demand for it. The challenge that I think we face is that the actual tools being used to create the game are extremely complex -- it's not going to be as simple as what the build engine was. So I think that just dumping that on people would be kind of dissapointing in terms of the small percentage of folks that would get anywhere with it.

However, it could be possible later to kind of rationalise an investment in making something simpler or providing some detailed information that makes those complex tools more accessible. And if that would be possible, then it would be something that we should look at after we're sure that we've taken care of Duke Nukem Forever. Making sure we ship this game has to be the highest priority and making sure that it's good has to be the highest priority.

There might also be some business and technical issues in that, that I'm not aware of, so I wouldn't want to commit myself to anything until that's all investigated as well.

AG: OK, now I know that you're not explicity talking about the multiplayer component yet, but are you able to tell us whether the game is going to include dedicated server functionality or will it use a listen-server model like Borderlands?

Randy: Well we haven't even announced what multiplayer is yet. We'll get around to talking about that stuff, but not just yet. Multiplayer was important to Duke and our memory of it and it's something that we want to have as part of the experience. So I want to say of course it's going to be part of the game but I really want it to speak for itself and we haven't had an opportunity to show it yet. As soon as we get to that opportunity then it can speak for itself and maybe that will be a good time to answer that question.

AG: Lastly, I have to throw in the obligitory question about the Australian Classifications Board. So our classifications here are notoriously strict on videogames, we still lack a rating for 18+ games. Any game retailed in Australia has to be seen as suitable for 15 years and over to play it. So do you think that's going to be a problem for Duke Nukem Forever, in it's current form, as a game suitable for 15 year olds to play?

Steve: Well we're about to find out really. We're going to work very hard at making sure that everyone gets to play Duke as it should be. The ratings stuff is certainly something we've been hearing a lot about since we came here and it's a difficult one, but something that we feel very strongly about. We don't want to see anybody clip Duke's wings but the game as it is, it doesn't so much cross the line as it kind of just dances around on it a bit. We're going to work very hard to make sure that everybody has the experience that the 3D Realms guys imagined it to be and that we imagine it to be and want it to be.

Randy: What do you think the tricky points are?

AG: Well basically for Australian classifications, violence usually isn't a huge problem but when you introduce sex and nudity into the mix and you have a combination of both.

Steve: So violence with sex is out?

Randy: Dammit! There goes my plans for tonight! [laughs]

AG: So with Grand Theft Auto 3 for instance, it wasn't the fact that you could beat up people and it wasn't the fact that you could beat up hookers in the game, the controversy was because you could beat up a hooker after you'd had sex with them and how the game incidentally rewarded you for that by giving you your money back.

Steve: So is there a difference between you killing the hooker or someone else in the game killing them? What if in GTA, you could pay someone else to kill the hooker?

Randy: That's not in Duke by the way! [laughs]

AG: Honestly, I'm not sure where the line is drawn exactly, but I think a lot of it is contextual and as long as there's no reward for the act... and it can also have a lot to do with how the game is presented to the [Classification] Board by the publisher as to how they'll ultimately rate the game.

Randy: Well Duke works differently with hookers; I think we'll be alright there. Duke loves women, he's saving the women of the world from aliens [laughs]. The aliens are dicks and they're not cool, but they're the ones that go down for it. I think any good Australian would love this thing.

We're still learning about all that though. We've made a lot of games so far and Borderlands has been successful in Australia and was classified okay despite the violence, so we'll have to see how it goes.

AG: Ok well thanks so much for your time tonight guys.

Randy: Thank you.

Steve: Thanks.

Latest Comments
Posted 05:19pm 18/10/10
nice interview.

i hate only being able to carry 2 weapons at once. hopefully in multi you will be able to carry them all.
Steve Farrelly
Posted 05:19pm 18/10/10
Awesome interview Dan
Posted 05:49pm 18/10/10
Cheers guys, I'll hopefully be able to get some hands-on impressions up soon too. It's pretty tough to pass judgment on what we've seen so far as to the strength of the final game though. It's kind of like when you watch a trailer for a comedy movie even though there's a bunch of great stuff in it, you can never tell if that's going to be consistent in the final film or whether they've just cut all the funniest bits into the trailer.

I think that it's very much going to be make or break based on it's comedic appeal and that even when the final game gets into people's hands, there's probably going to be a lot of polarised reviews because of personal senses of humour and inconsistent expectations of how good a game that was 13 years in the making should be.

Anyway, more to hopefully come on that soon.
Posted 06:03pm 18/10/10
I'm not sure if it's common knowledge or not, but has anyone given any insight in to what actually went so wrong with the development?

Obviously it was a combination of factors but could it be largely blamed on budget issues or more a case of too much creative and not enough management?

I've always wondered about whether or not George Broussard's attitude of Duke being HIS baby was what got in the way of meaningful progress.
Posted 06:21pm 18/10/10
^Pretty much reload.
Posted 09:00pm 18/10/10
From what I gather, an under-resourced tiny team, combined with big dreams but no proper planning and the management were incompetent.
Posted 06:58pm 18/10/10
i hate only being able to carry 2 weapons at once

Jesus tap dancing christ. Why the f*** can you only carry 2 weapons?
Posted 07:04pm 18/10/10
The third spot is for your flash light.
Posted 07:16pm 18/10/10
All of those questions were fantastic dan. Nice interview.
Posted 07:36pm 18/10/10
I've always wondered about whether or not George Broussard's attitude of Duke being HIS baby was what got in the way of meaningful progress.

There was a huge rant published by a few employee's when it was first announced the company was being closed down (3DR).

Cliff notes were that George had no timelines or real direction; and someone would be working on things for 3 months and then have it scrapped because George went to look at it for the first time and didn't like it or something.

Also they said he played WoW etc during the work day the majority of the time and so thing's werent even done.
Posted 07:36pm 18/10/10
Moving goal-posts and rewriting and adapting to different engines helped drag 3D-Realms down.
Posted 08:48pm 18/10/10
All in all, a great read.

Knowing how they feel about platform parity was especially good. I also like knowing that they are not the money grabbing type and that they give a s*** in general.
Posted 08:59pm 18/10/10
or at least give enough of a s*** to give that impression :p
Posted 09:16pm 18/10/10
We are in the home stretch now. Giddy Up.
Posted 09:21pm 18/10/10
ask him when he's gonna open up gearbox AU here in Brisbane so I can work for them
Posted 10:11pm 18/10/10
For reload: here's an article by wired that detailed the time-line of what went down with DNF.

EDIT: Also, well done with the interview Dan. =)
Posted 10:50pm 18/10/10
Cheers, very interesting read. Broussard sounds like even more of a tard than I thought.
Posted 09:13am 19/10/10
I think pc powerplay wrote an article on it.

From what was gathered in the article, they wanted the game to be as successful as the first. They kept seeing these great games being made (Which wa back in the Half Life 1 days) and constantly took bits out and added new ideas to try and make their game the best. In the end nothing was completed. The article was very interesting, wish i could remember where i read it
Posted 12:15pm 19/10/10
mebbe that one?
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